History & Now, Music

Women’s History Month: 7 Feminist Hip-Hop songs

Did you get the message?

words by: Kayla Carmicheal
Mar 28, 2022

March is Women’s History Month, and what better way to celebrate women’s history in music than with a list full of it? It’s no secret that hip-hop has a history of not treating women fairly, whether that be in lyrics, videos, or even women rappers themselves. And hip-hop, at its core, is a genre that comments on social issues and change. It’s a medium where individuals can unapologetically talk about the world they dream of, want to see, and live in.

 

These songs are important in hip-hop history and illustrate a time when women weren’t treated like equals. Plus, the songs are fantastic. More people should bump them, if nothing else, because they’re great.

 

That said, let’s talk about some of the most popular rap songs with lyrics that promote feminism in hip-hop. Written by women, for women, and the empowerment of future women.

 

“U.N.I.T.Y.”, Queen Latifah

 

What an anthem. It almost needs no introduction, but for those who don’t know, “U.N.I.T.Y.,” by Queen Latifah, it is the classic ’90s rallying cry for women everywhere. Latifah raps about her experience with sexism and fights back. For instance, “You put your hands on me again, I’ll put your ass in handcuffs,” is just one of the lines that delivers the powerful message: Women aren’t taking it anymore.

 

The hook, “Who you calling a ‘bitch’?” lets you know immediately that Latifah didn’t come to play. And for women, it’s a sense of “Finally, someone said it!” So take note: This goes hard, and the meaning goes even harder.

 

“None of Your Business”, Salt-N-Pepa

 

Another ’90s one. Everyone knows Salt-N-Pepa. But did you know about this joint? The lyrics start off with “What’s the matter with your life? Why you gotta mess with mine?” and sets the stage early: Women can do whatever they want, and it’s no one’s business.

 

Clearly stating that double standards aren’t going to phase them, “None of Your Business” is a song everyone identifying as a woman can relate to. We are constantly held to a standard men aren’t and it’s obvious that this standard was (is) rampant in rap. Salt-N-Pepa even inspired their male counterparts to take note—and make somewhat of an effort to be more conscious about the lyrics they write. But it started with women.

 

“Ladies First”, Queen Latifah featuring Monie Love

 

What can I say, Queen Latifah was on a roll. And she wasn’t going to let men talk to her any type of way. She and Monie Love absolutely annihilate this beat and take turns giving it up to women and themselves throughout.

 

Love mentions how women are not only great, but they grind, they move, they work, and give birth to new generations. She brings up systemic change. Latifah mentions, “Some think that we can’t flow/Stereotypes that got to go,” which is still true today, and probably just as true as it was in the ’90s. This killer single doesn’t wait for permission, and doesn’t ask for forgiveness.

 

“Not Tonight”, Lil’ Kim

 

Let’s get to the ’00s, shall we? Nowadays, Lil’ Kim is kind of underrated, but she is prolific. This explicit song is a statement in and of itself. It breaks down the stereotype and perception that women shouldn’t rap about certain subjects, but men can however they please.

 

When you get to the chorus, Lil’ Kim explains what she doesn’t want every night, and that’s fine. That’s not what she should be known for—her talent should be at the forefront.

 

It’s easy to see with the line, “If sex was record sales, you would be double glass,” and two lines later, she talks about how the only times she’s seen is when she’s giving men what they want. So, no—Lil’ Kim is not going to take it.

 

“Lyte as a Rock”, MC Lyte

 

We need to talk about MC Lyte more. So let me start with “Lyte as a Rock.” And let MC Lyte say that when you get rejected men, take it like a normal person—instead of getting violent. “If you hate rejection, don’t try to score,” pretty much says it all. And then, she calls it pathetic, which is pretty funny (albeit true as hell).

 

On this hard ass beat, MC Lyte goes just as hard. She talks about her impeccable strength, potential, and stability, “On the other hand, you are weak, and unruly.” This song cements the talent and vocal scholar MC Lyte is, and she knows it. She says she’s better than men with lesser skills, no matter how popular they were at the time.

 

“Supersonic”, J.J. Fad

 

I have to give a shout to this song, which is probably most known nowadays as the main inspiration for “Fergalicious.” (Listen to it, you’ll see what I’m talking about). No one talks about this one, but J.J. Fad were trailblazers. They obviously weren’t the only women breaking into rap in its early days, but we don’t know much about those women. I wonder why.

 

Anyway, “Supersonic” is your classic ’80s hip-hop group, “Who are we? Let us tell you,” single, but it’s just so catchy. And so ’80s. And yes, inequality was definitely an issue then, because one of the lines is, “If you don’t like my beats, I’ll go big in your behind.” I think that says a lot more than it doesn’t.

 

Plus, the “Hit it Baby D!” (See: “Hit it, Fergie!”) intros some of the best speed rapping of the era, hands down.

 

“Don’t Rush Me”, Jean Grae

 

Remember 2004? The time of camera phones, jeans 3 sizes too big, and Jean Grae. If you listen to nothing else by her, listen to this one. A bonus track on This Week, it has a clear message—if you couldn’t tell from the song’s title.

 

Grae goes into depth about her talent, knowing she has it, yet reflects on her age, insecurity, sensitivity, and trying to make it. Everyone can relate to the feelings she’s talking about. And she knows she was going somewhere with her music, but she was going to do it her way—so don’t rush her.

 

Don’t forget to check out more of our Women’s History Month content, like our profiles on Megan Thee Stallion, Japanese Breakfast and WILLOW.

 

Photo via Janette Beckman/Smithsonian